Sur­vival

New England Review - - Table of Contents - J. T. Price

His flip phone lay on the hand-carved cof­fee ta­ble. No re­turn call, but Davis was watch­ing Luke on his lap­top. He had e-mailed too, just to be thor­ough, his fourth try since leav­ing Los An­ge­les in Au­gust. No re­sponse; each ef­fort pro­gres­sively more dif­fi­cult to make. The film was not all that bad, though. Davis could see why peo­ple felt strongly about it.

They had dyed his brother's hair red­dish gold and set the top in the dis­tinc­tive wave. His con­cave cheeks and square chin suited him well to the part. In many scenes, as the young-man-who-would-be-pres­i­dent aged, Luke wore sub­tle shad­ings of dark makeup around his eyes that lent them the aura of re­quired grav­i­tas, of suf­fer­ing un­told. The ap­pear­ance of his eyes con­trasted with the smile, which was the way Luke al­ways had smiled: in a flash, brassy, ever so slightly mock­ing. They had done some­thing with makeup to con­ceal the nick in his left eye­brow.

“There's noth­ing in the book about a sit­u­a­tion like this,” said on-screen Luke. “A lot of you men have wives and some of you have chil­dren. What do you want to do? I have noth­ing to lose.” He was thin, he was tan. He stood di­sheveled in the sun on the shore of the is­land, hands and feet lined with fake blood ap­plied so metic­u­lously as to ap­pear ran­dom, as to ap­pear real.

It was his brother, the brother he had not spo­ken with since re­turn­ing to St. Louis, and Davis could not help but look for clues to his well-be­ing, even if this movie was over eight months out of date. Davis avoided pa­parazzi im­ages like cold rain, would feel faint shiv­ers and in­stantly click away when­ever a pic­ture of Luke popped out from some site he hap­pened on: usu­ally the pseudo-newsy home­page for an e-mail ser­vice crawl­ing with dis­trac­tion. Noth­ing more than ad­ver­tise­ments, thought Davis, whether sub­tle or bald-faced, an il­lu­sion of in­ti­macy for the lovelorn and grasp­ing. Look at the new clothes the hot young ac­tor's wear­ing! Look at the new lo­ca­tions he has vis­ited! Hear the lat­est quip he made to a bank of cam­eras! All of it, so very old. Davis sprawled across the sofa in the empty base­ment of his child­hood home, wear­ing cor­duroys with worn-out knees and a grunge-era flan­nel sal­vaged from a hanger in the closet up­stairs. His lap­top beamed its eerie blue light from the cen­ter of the cof­fee ta­ble. Re­place Luke with any other ac­tor and the head­lines would sport the same manic tenor. They would ad­ver­tise the same prod­ucts.

The film it­self: a prod­uct too, but only a prod­uct? The root of at­ten­tion, pres­tige, nom­i­na­tions. Davis was will­ing now to see what was sup­posed to have been cap­tured on screen. It looked new, this pro­ces­sion of im­ages, even if cloaked

in styles and molds of the '40s, the war in the Pa­cific. As Luke de­liv­ered his lines in the dis­tinc­tive ac­cent, Davis thought, You think you're good, don't you, brother? Then, chastis­ing him­self for his own envy, Davis con­sid­ered clos­ing the lap­top, which by the twenty-minute marker was whirring with wor­ry­ing ef­fort. But then Davis would do what, ex­actly? He was down for the night. In the house he had grown up in, and all by him­self: his mother in her early fifties had a more lively so­cial life than he did. There was only so much to do. He could not bring him­self to touch the dusty video game con­sole, tucked into the bot­tom drawer of the en­ter­tain­ment cen­ter. He could only go out drink­ing with Seth so many times, could only stand so much talk of cur­rent events, of how they guessed Mike was do­ing “over there,” based on the scant in­for­ma­tion Mike's e-mails pro­vided: usu­ally no more than the ti­tle of the right-wing geopo­lit­i­cal tract he was read­ing, how frus­trated he was with the way the wars were be­ing por­trayed by “main­stream me­dia out­lets + other pur­vey­ors of left­ist bias,” and al­ways how proud he was of his men. The pri­mary news that e-mails from Mike car­ried was that Mike was do­ing okay, which, giv­ing the com­fort it did, still prompted a ques­tion of Davis, one that he did not want to ex­plore all that deeply: was Davis do­ing okay?

He had hit a rough patch in Los An­ge­les, no deny­ing it, and that rough patch had both sur­prised him and seemed, in ret­ro­spect, fairly in­evitable. Mov­ing to Hol­ly­wood had not been his idea to be­gin with, and what com­pelled him to seize it, he found, at a re­move, dif­fi­cult to say. Sim­ply the ex­cite­ment of what was hap­pen­ing with Luke: first the TV ap­pear­ances, then the sit­com, then the movies. The at­ten­tion Luke drew to him­self just by be­ing, and how that had, at first, seemed to in­clude Davis, the ex­cite­ment, the un­like­li­hood, each pass­ing minute flut­ter­ing with the weight of dust on a but­ter­fly's wings. Dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, yes, but re­lated by blood. In part, Luke was Davis, Davis felt, and Davis was, if he had to ad­mit it, yes, it had be­come more ap­par­ent with time, in part, Luke. No man an is­land, the crux of that Paul Si­mon song. Their fam­ily had splin­tered, their fa­ther drop­ping off the grid. Luke, at twenty, sud­denly was pos­sessed of greater where­withal than their fa­ther ever had known, and if it were as sim­ple for Luke to choose to live the way he did, then why not Davis too?

Davis had grown to de­pend on his younger brother for ca­sual ban­ter about bold-print names, the per­ceived ad­mit­tance it granted him to the stage Luke and his costars oc­cu­pied. Even in the of­fice where Davis worked, a pro­duc­tion com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in comic book fran­chises, he could see how he had been re­garded more as Luke Gam­bier's brother than as his own man. Now, Davis watched the film, Sur­vival, for clues to what had been grow­ing in­side Luke, the hid­den as­pects of his per­son­al­ity shap­ing up be­neath the sur­faces Davis had taken for granted on ar­riv­ing in LA, such sur­faces be­ing, ap­par­ently, all that Davis had, the only ex­pla­na­tion for why Davis had been do­ing what he had been do­ing with his life.

Dur­ing the love scene thirty min­utes into the film, Davis did not see Jack and Inga, but his brother and an ac­tress in a blond wig, a girl they both had

watched grow up be­fore their eyes on a teenage se­rial drama. Today, she was a pro­fessed Scien­tol­o­gist. Did she kiss like a Scien­tol­o­gist?

The ac­tors knocked over a lamp in their en­thu­si­asm, and Luke, ex­am­in­ing the wreck­age, plucked out a small wire. “They've been fol­low­ing me,” said the ac­tress play­ing Inga. “This damnable war. As a for­eign na­tional, I'm afraid I'm sus­pect.”

“Well, ah, hello to who­ever's lis­ten­ing!” said Luke, do­ing the voice. “Say, hello, Inga.” “Hello, Inga!” said the ac­tress. What kind of small talk did Luke make with her be­tween takes? I will put my hand here; you put your hands there; I will con­ceal your body like this; you don't need to con­ceal me at all.

Was Luke, at present, on bet­ter terms with her than he was with his own brother? Did he re­turn her calls? When Luke, at the con­trols, threw the en­gine on the PT boat into gear too quickly, the shot closed on his face real­iz­ing with hor­ror that the Ja­panese de­stroyer would split his stalled craft in two. Davis asked him­self if Luke could be­gin to ap­proach the knowl­edge of what that might feel like: forces so much greater than he was, com­ing down with un­for­giv­ing fury. But crit­ics praised this mo­ment. A mo­ment of sub­stance, they wrote. They did not see fak­ery: they saw Jack, priv­i­lege gone in a snap, fear and raw de­ter­mi­na­tion laid bare as he screamed to the crew: “Grab your nuts!”

They saw Jack in the ex­plo­sion's af­ter­math, adrift on the still-float­ing bow, rec­og­niz­ing the loss of Kirk­sey, the boy who had seen his own doom writ­ten in the stars. They saw Jack crack­ing grim home­spun jokes for his strug­gling crew­mates as they pad­dled through the black wa­ters—prob­a­bly a North Hol­ly­wood wa­ter tank. They saw Jack as he as­sessed the grav­ity of Mcma­hon's burns and took Mcma­hon onto his back, swim­ming with the strap of the other man's life-vest be­tween his teeth.

They saw Jack the next day set­ting out from the is­land where his crew had taken refuge and ven­tur­ing alone into the chan­nel in search of res­cue, life-vest keep­ing him afloat, a lantern wrapped in an­other vest and held out in front of him. They felt his aware­ness of the heavy sea crea­tures mov­ing in the wa­ter be­neath his pad­dling feet, the chance of a fa­tal en­counter with the Ja­panese om­nipresent, the sound of his in­hala­tions, his ex­ha­la­tions, all there was in that in­stant of Jack Kennedy. He could have dis­ap­peared in a blink.

They saw Jack with his in­stinct for im­pro­vi­sa­tion carv­ing out the mes­sage on the co­conut and hand­ing it over to na­tive scouts. No mat­ter that it was Leonard Thom whose ac­tions ul­ti­mately led to the crew's res­cue—the burly ac­tor play­ing Thom re­minded Davis of his and Luke's ele­men­tary school PE teacher—it was Jack's crudely carved co­conut that would be writ­ten up in pub­lished ac­counts of the events. It was Jack who would be the star.

They saw Jack af­ter the res­cue ex­press­ing his grief at the loss of those en­trusted to his com­mand and they saw him go against his am­bas­sador fa­ther's

ex­pressed wishes that he be re­moved from harm's way, even as his health be­trayed him and pounds dropped from Jack's—davis's brother's—frame. When he fi­nally was forced to take his leave, he weighed forty pounds less than when he had ar­rived. “A team of horses couldn't get him to re­port to sick bay,” said the ac­tor play­ing Lenny Thom, watch­ing Jack board a plane. Luke's ap­pear­ance, Davis could see now, verged on the skele­tal.

On his first day back in the states, a rail-thin Jack vis­ited Inga in Hol­ly­wood. She was see­ing an­other man, a doc­tor who worked on movie sets. She in­vited both men to her apart­ment. They spoke about foot­ball. Jack shook the doc­tor's hand. “Farewell, Inga,” he said, stand­ing with his both­er­some back held straight, fea­tures im­pas­sive through the pain, emo­tion press­ing the sur­face of his green­ishgray eyes. “Be good, Jack,” she said. When the story of Jack's hero­ism was pub­lished, most of the er­rors its star had made were sifted from the ac­count. On an air­base in Eng­land, Jack's older brother Joseph, the cel­e­brated ath­lete, erst­while bully, and straight-man to his younger brother's blasé wise­crack­ing, read the pages. Jack had be­come in real life what the boys played at be­ing as chil­dren. Al­most im­me­di­ately, Joe passed up a chance to re­turn to the US, hav­ing com­pleted the req­ui­site thirty-five sor­ties, to vol­un­teer in a fit of um­brage for an­other mis­sion so dan­ger­ous as to be ef­fec­tively sui­ci­dal. They would load a giant Lib­er­a­tor air­craft with ex­plo­sives and Joe would fly it with an­other pilot to­ward the Ger­man V2 ar­ma­ments on the French coast. They would aban­don the Lib­er­a­tor and its fa­tal load just be­yond the coast of Kent, leav­ing the plane to re­mote con­trol guid­ance, and, once it struck France, a proven threat to Lon­don would be wiped from the map. Like that: poof. The risk was ex­treme; the pay­off, undy­ing glory. Davis stud­ied the willpower on the fa­mous ac­tor's face—the in­die per­former he had ob­served a few years ago clasp­ing hands with his brother at a protest against the Iraq War in down­town La—the sweat Joe wiped from his fore­head on the cold night, the pinched lips, the glar­ing eyes burn­ing with knowl­edge that by all rights a hero's sta­tus ought to be­long to him. The Lib­er­a­tor left the ground in Eng­land with its cargo hold of Tor­pex ex­plo­sives. The two pilots looked at one an­other, each tak­ing com­fort in the ex­am­ple of the other's im­per­vi­ous­ness. A plane fly­ing be­hind them har­bored the re­mote con­trol de­vice, while a TV cam­era at­tached to the Lib­er­a­tor's hull trans­mit­ted what lay ahead. “Good pic­ture!” came the voice over the ra­dio. Joe nod­ded and waited twenty sec­onds. “Still get­ting good pic­ture?” he asked. “Still get­ting good pic­ture!” The Bri­tish coast­line ap­peared. They no longer were con­trol­ling the plane. Joe left his copi­lot up front. The Tor­pex lay in or­derly stacks, gray can­is­ter on top of can­is­ter. A green tarp par­tially cov­ered the cans and on the tarp in squig­gly white-painted letters, a mes­sage for the Ger­mans: Col­lect on de­liv­ery, Mr. Schick­el­gru­ber.

He kneeled over the switch to arm the ex­plo­sives. “This bet­ter be wired right,” Joe called to the front, “or we'll have one hel­luva headache.” The plane droned on­ward. It didn't seem as if his copi­lot had heard him.

Then, grin­ning, Joe said as much to him­self as to any­body: “Grab your nuts.” And like that. Joseph Sr. broke the news to his gath­ered fam­ily on the porch in Hyan­nis Port. Jack strode the beach alone, the brother in whose shadow he had al­ways moved dis­persed in the air. Not a trace of him was found. It was Jack whom his sib­lings would look up to now.

“I some­times won­der whether I ever re­ally knew him,” nar­rated Luke, in voiceover, a let­ter to Jack's cher­ished sis­ter af­ter the mil­i­tary funeral. “He al­ways had a slight de­tach­ment from things around him—a wall of re­serve few peo­ple ever suc­ceeded in pen­e­trat­ing.”

In the months ahead, Jack bonded with Lenny Thom, safely home from the Pa­cific. Lenny Thom of small-town Ohio, a guy who turned down a pro­fes­sional foot­ball con­tract with the Chicago Bears to serve his coun­try in its hour of need. Lenny made two trips to Hyan­nis Port in the com­pany of his new­ly­wed wife, Kate, dur­ing the sum­mer of '44. The Kennedy cot­tage im­pressed them, the raw beauty and man­i­cured shrub­bery. Kate felt, when Jack ad­dressed her, as if he had al­ways known her and Lenny. Some of the other Navy guys were there too. Jack's health not­with­stand­ing, he tossed a foot­ball with Lenny and the rest, in­clud­ing Teddy, age eleven. “Lenny's a swell guy!” said Teddy, as the play­ers took a lemon­ade break. “I'd never have made it home without him,” said Jack. Later that night, the Navy guys and Kate got to drink­ing Scotch on the lawn. Ev­ery­one felt good, gaz­ing out on the hori­zon, the lulling rhythm of the waves, a world away from the bru­tal sun and thirst and des­o­late hours in the Pa­cific. Lenny and Jack en­ter­tained the group with bawdy sto­ries. “Cover your ears, dar­ling,” said Lenny to Kate with a big, teas­ing smile. Their laugh­ter be­came a crea­ture in it­self, ex­pan­sive, draw­ing in the still­ness of the set­ting around them and fizzing it up. Then a win­dow thud­ded open on the se­cond story of the house and they heard the Am­bas­sador call into the night, “Jack, can't you show some re­spect for your dead brother?”

Lenny glanced at his friend with con­cern. Bar­ney Ross winced, try­ing to hide the smirk on his face, the in­con­gru­ous­ness of the old man's in­tru­sion on what had been, only a mo­ment be­fore, care­free con­vivi­al­ity. Jack, show­ing only a flicker of up­set, brushed off his fa­ther's crab­bing: “Ah, well. He doesn't like the sound of any­one else hav­ing a good time.”

Kate kissed Lenny a lit­tle while later, then re­tired to a guest room. The other guys left in turn un­til it was just Jack and Lenny in the moon­light, lieu­tenant and XO, off-duty, all rank for­got­ten.

Jack said a few words about Joe Jr., his fa­ther's grief. There was his own grief, too, of course. He felt he had to be strong for his sib­lings.

“Once will be enough,” said Lenny, crick­ets chirp­ing in the shrub­bery, the

moon as bright in the sky as it was ab­sent the night of PT 109's crash. “Peace must be last­ing and com­plete this time.” Jack nod­ded at his friend. Lenny was not out of the ser­vice yet, but af­ter a few more ro­ta­tions among bases, he re­turned with Kate to Youngstown in Jan­uary of 1946. They bought a house for them­selves and their baby. Jack, mean­while, ini­ti­ated a run for Congress in Mas­sachusetts with help from the Am­bas­sador. To get ahead, Lenny was pur­su­ing a master's de­gree in Colum­bus while also work­ing at the of­fice of a lo­cal in­surer. He com­muted by au­to­mo­bile be­tween Colum­bus and his home in Youngstown, cov­er­ing the dis­tance ev­ery night of the week. Some­times he made the drive alone, some­times with other guys, and in­vari­ably af­ter dark. Some of the guys knew of Lenny's part in the fa­mous PT-109 sur­vival tale, his friend­ship with Jack Kennedy, and they would ask about it. Lenny, be­hind the wheel, obliged with a grin.

Oc­to­ber: in full swing on the cam­paign trail, Jack re­ceived a call from Ohio. Lenny Thom had been in an ac­ci­dent on the rail­road tracks. He and his two pas­sen­gers had not made it. The clamor of the room faded around Jack. “Well, that's ter­ri­ble. Just ter­ri­ble. How was—did he . . .” Jack groped for words. At the funeral, he learned from the Thom fam­ily that Lenny had been con­scious when paramedics ar­rived, telling them to look af­ter “the other fel­lows” first.

While de­liv­er­ing a speech be­fore the Amer­i­can Le­gion in Charlestown the fol­low­ing week, Jack lost his com­po­sure at­tempt­ing to say, “No greater love has a man than he who gives up his life for his brother.” It was only a line in a speech, one he had de­liv­ered many times, but he could not bring him­self to con­tinue.

He left the podium and ducked away from the crowd, wav­ing off aides. In pri­vate, he al­lowed him­self, briefly, the lux­ury of tears, and Davis too was cry­ing as he watched the film. “I'm twenty-nine years old,” Jack said to his fa­ther, “and I have al­ready lost two broth­ers.” He went on to win the race for elected of­fice. The film ended with a se­ries of epi­logue cards, not­ing Se­na­tor Kennedy's first meet­ing with Jac­que­line Bou­vier at a small din­ner party and how the co­conut and its fate­ful mes­sage fol­lowed him all the way to the White House, where it oc­cu­pied a prom­i­nent po­si­tion on his desk.

Davis wiped his eyes on a flan­nel sleeve. The stupid movie had had its way with him. Of course it was go­ing to be sad. They pulled on the heart­strings and then sud­denly all the ar­ti­fice felt like some­thing real and not a put-on by a lot of clever pre­tenders. He doubted if his brother even knew the first thing about Jack Kennedy be­fore sign­ing on to play the part. English was the only course he had shown any ap­ti­tude for in high school, and no­body told you very much in English class about Jack Kennedy. Maybe they had ed­u­cated him on set, or he had ed­u­cated him­self. Any­way, no one chose Luke for his knowl­edge. He was a hot prop­erty. He pass­ably looked the part.

As the cred­its rolled, bag­pipes of “The Bar­ren Rocks of Aden” tran­si­tion­ing to the Beach Boys' “The Warmth of the Sun,” Davis heard the door to the garage. Foot­falls sounded on the first floor and then the door to the base­ment

whined open, his mother's voice ex­tend­ing into the dark­ness: “Any­one here?”

“Down­stairs,” said Davis, com­pos­ing him­self. He closed the DVD win­dow on his lap­top, but could not make it to the light panel be­fore Dorothy reached the bot­tom of the base­ment steps.

She flipped the switch. “Watch­ing some­thing?” she asked with a wry turn to her mouth.

“Oh, a movie,” said Davis. The blank case for the awards mailer Luke had sent to the house lay open on the car­pet. “So,” said Dorothy. “You hadn't seen it yet?” “Nope.” “And what did you think?” She stood at the foot of the steps, wear­ing a blue jacket and a neck­lace with lay­ers of golden petals. Her hair had gone grayer of late, or she had let it, but her fig­ure re­mained slim. She was con­stantly mov­ing. “It's all right,” said Davis. “Not bad.” “You watched on your lap­top?” said Dorothy. “Why not the flatscreen?” She glanced at the blank wall unit to her left. “No­body ever uses it.”

“I don't know,” said Davis, look­ing at it as if it might of­fer him a rea­son. “I guess I didn't want Luke's head get­ting too big.” “Very funny.” “Didn't think I was go­ing to watch all the way through.” “Did you have a chance to read the script when you were out there?” “No.” “Oh, I thought maybe—” “I know what you thought.” “Do you imagine it will win any of the awards?” “Sure, why not? But I doubt Luke has a chance.” “Do you want him to win?” “Why not?” “Well, that's what mat­ters. Of course it's a thrill just to have been nom­i­nated.” “Mom, are you go­ing to write his speech for him?” Dorothy did not take the bait. “I loved it, you know. Sa­muel, too. I think it's great they fi­nally made a movie about Kennedy, the man. Not all the yucky fetishiz­ing of his death.”

They had fallen into the film's trap, thought Davis, talk­ing about the ad­ver­tised sub­ject and not the more ob­vi­ous one: the lives of the play­ers be­hind it. Luke, specif­i­cally. Davis did not like feel­ing he was a dupe. Dorothy looked at her son hope­fully, as if con­sid­er­ing the man he might be­come, and he felt sud­denly em­bar­rassed by his clothes and the fact that he was slouch­ing on a sofa in the base­ment at twenty-five years of age. They were dis­cussing a piece of en­ter­tain­ment and at the same time a marker in his younger brother's pro­fes­sional rise, one of four films he had starred in over the past year. Sens­ing Davis's dis­com­fort and wish­ing to set him at ease, Dorothy asked, “Would you like to watch some­thing else? From one of the dish chan­nels?”

“I didn't think you'd be back tonight.” “Well, I drop by ev­ery few days. To check and see you haven't burned the place down.” “So you trust me, then.” “I trust you. De­spite your pen­chant for sit­ting alone in the dark. Like your fa­ther.”

“I've been try­ing to get ahold of Luke, you know. It's Dad's six­ti­eth on the twenty-fourth. I thought I'd drive up to Michi­gan.” “That's not a short trip.” “I haven't seen Dad in per­son since col­lege grad­u­a­tion.” “He doesn't reach out much.” “Just like Luke,” said Davis. “He has dif­fer­ent rea­sons.” “Sure he does.” “I don't know how he is spend­ing his days.” “Have you heard any­thing?” “Like you, I know he bought a house. I hear he keeps work­ing on it.” “You haven't spo­ken with him?” Davis asked. “Your fa­ther? No. Not in years. I e-mail his sis­ter for up­dates.” “You never worry about him?” “He takes care of him­self.” “I thought Luke should join me for the trip.” “It's a nice idea. But you know Luke's very busy.” “It's like `Cat's in the Cra­dle.'” “What's that?” “Ah, never mind. You don't know it.” “I beg your par­don, I most cer­tainly do.” “You know, cat's in the cra­dle with the sil­ver spoon, lit­tle boy blue and the man on the moon . . .” “Yes. And?” “Like the sit­u­a­tion it de­scribes. That's the same as Luke and Dad.” “I wouldn't say he was per­fect, but you don't think he was an at­ten­tive fa­ther?” “He had his mo­ments.” “Then the song doesn't re­ally match, does it? Be­sides, it's just a song.” “Al­ways look­ing for the easy an­swers, aren't I?” “Don't put your­self down. There's no need to em­pha­size the neg­a­tive side of things.” “Glad we could have this con­ver­sa­tion, Mom.” “I tried.” “You have a way of mak­ing me feel like I'll be fif­teen years old for the rest of my life.”

“Go­ing by what you're wear­ing, I'd say you may be at least par­tially re­spon­si­ble.”

“What did you just say about not putting my­self down?” “I never said no­body else shouldn't.” Be­fore he got into bed, Davis sent Luke an­other e-mail from his lap­top. p.s. watched your Kennedy. Nice work, bro. It would be 10 p.m. in Los An­ge­les. Luke was prob­a­bly out some­where.

Davis lay in bed for a while without drift­ing off. Dur­ing a scene at the be­gin­ning of Sur­vival, the Kennedy chil­dren watch war movies in their child­hood home. Joseph Sr., a se­cu­ri­ties trader and boot­leg­ger, had pur­chased one of the first en­ter­tain­ment cen­ters in the world, a pro­jec­tor and screen. Davis thought of them watch­ing all those movies just as he and Luke had watched all those movies, just as prob­a­bly most of Amer­ica had watched all those movies since way back. In his dream later on, Davis was fly­ing a plane with his mother as copi­lot. He was freak­ing out, say­ing he knew there were ex­plo­sives in the back; his heart pounded. She told him not to worry. This plane is go­ing to go up in smoke, Davis swore. She laughed. She did not be­lieve him. He left her at the con­trols and went to look in the cargo hold. A line of pris­on­ers in man­a­cles stared back at him, dead-eyed. Davis star­tled awake. The sun had not risen yet. He checked his e-mail. Noth­ing from Luke. He re­turned to bed and fell asleep again, dream­ing of noth­ing.

Shortly af­ter 10 a.m., Davis awoke on his stom­ach. Light streamed un­der­neath the drawn cur­tains. He show­ered, dressed in an old sweater and khakis, then checked his e-mail again.

Dorothy was scram­bling eggs and eyed Davis war­ily as he stalked over to the kitchen ta­ble. “Good morn­ing to you,” she said. “Would you care for eggs and toast?” “Please.” She went about re­mov­ing eggs from their car­ton. The siz­zle of but­ter filled the room. The tem­per­a­ture looked brisk out­doors. Bare branches wa­vered in the breeze. Dorothy slid a plate for Davis across the kitchen counter. “And but­ter for the toast,” she said. “Or would you pre­fer mar­garine?” “Peanut but­ter,” said Davis. “I usu­ally have peanut but­ter.” “I think we have some around here.” “That's okay. But­ter's fine.” Dorothy opened a cab­i­net above her. “No, look, here we go. Peanut but­ter. Half a jar.” “Guess­ing that's ex­pired?” “It's right where your fa­ther left it.” She gave a short, sad laugh. “I never felt there was any sense in throw­ing things away that still have use. This, though . . .” “I'll have but­ter, Mom, thanks.” Dorothy sat at the head of the ta­ble near­est the fam­ily room, her po­si­tion when the Gam­biers had dined as a fam­ily. Davis was in the seat that used to be his, fac­ing the door to the fam­ily room and the prin­ter's type-case filled with knick­knacks on the wall. The seat Luke used to oc­cupy faced the kitchen counter and the cook­ing area be­yond it. The small tele­vi­sion Davis's fa­ther long ago in­stalled had dis­ap­peared without a trace.

“So, how was your night?” asked Davis. “We went out in the Cen­tral West End, a new Ital­ian place. Their toasted ravi­oli was first-rate, but the ser­vice a bit strange. They kept ask­ing us if we would like an­other bot­tle of Pinot Gri­gio. With one there on the ta­ble! We are slow drinkers. I thought the waiter might have been on some­thing. A nice-look­ing young man but more an­i­mated than is re­ally usual. Sa­muel thought so too.”

Davis had yet to have a real man-to-man with Sa­muel, who nev­er­the­less reg­is­tered as en­er­getic, quick-wit­ted, and keenly at­ten­tive to Dorothy. On fin­ish­ing his meal, Davis found his mother gaz­ing at him.

“You know, I haven't asked you very much about what hap­pened out there,” she said. “Or what your plan is. I don't want to be That Mother. I'm through be­ing That Mother. But, you know, you can't go on liv­ing here in­def­i­nitely. Or you could. Only I am se­ri­ous about sell­ing the house. Sa­muel and I re­ally will be mov­ing to Florida.” “You don't think Luke will want to buy the place?” “Luke? Are you jok­ing?” “Make a mu­seum out of it?” “That's not re­ally very funny.” “I'm go­ing to Michi­gan. Then I'll see what's next.” “Sounds like you're giv­ing the trip a lot of mean­ing.” “I should, shouldn't I?” “I don't know what kind of shape your fa­ther's in, Davis.” Af­ter wash­ing the dishes, Davis put on an old wool coat and set the garage­door to ris­ing, the clam­or­ing rum­ble that had trans­fixed him when he was a child. There was only one car in the garage now. Davis's Jetta waited in the drive­way, front bumper askew. Dorothy had asked him why he didn't park it in­side. He felt un­com­fort­able do­ing that. He couldn't ex­plain why. She said he was be­ing silly. The birds would ruin the paint. “It's winter,” Davis had said. “How many birds are there?”

There were a few birds. Crows, it looked like. Without think­ing about where he was go­ing, Davis strolled out into the street, then glanced back. It was a house on a sub­ur­ban block, a few prop­er­ties away from the cul-de-sac. Aside from the gray coat­ing of paint in a neigh­bor­hood with no other gray houses, it was more or less ex­actly the same as most of the oth­ers in the sub­di­vi­sion, and, in fact, built more or less ex­actly on the same tem­plate as many oth­ers in sub­ur­ban St. Louis County. The floor plan mir­rored that in Roshan's house where Davis had vis­ited many times as a child. Roshan's mother was a sur­geon and never around, his fa­ther stay-at-home with the oc­ca­sional mar­ket­ing ven­ture, sell­ing chi­naware or vi­ta­min pills over the tele­phone. A world of dif­fer­ence from the den-to-den dy­namic in effect at the Gam­bier home, yet the floor plans were mir­ror im­ages. Davis turned over the cell phone in the pocket of his coat as if it might be a charm of some kind.

He walked to the end of the cul-de-sac. His lips numbed in the breeze and

his cheeks prick­led. A path be­hind the fi­nal house led into the woods and Davis fol­lowed it as he and Luke had so many times in the past. Down the way, through the bare trees, he reached the creek, the ground slop­ing sharply, cre­at­ing a tiny basin. A pine bridge spanned the gap to the place where the ground climbed again. An old oak had fallen dur­ing re­cent months, also span­ning the basin, its roots swirling in a tan­gle on the far bank. Back when they were chil­dren, they found this place mag­i­cal, the set­ting for num­ber­less fan­tasies. There was al­ways a war and Davis had to get his guys from one side to the other—neigh­bor­hood play­mates or, later on, school­mates, guard­ing against the ad­vance. Cow­boys ver­sus In­di­ans, Earth­lings ver­sus Aliens, Amer­i­cans ver­sus Rus­sians, Au­to­bots ver­sus De­cep­ti­cons. Un­cer­tainty about the op­pos­ing sides only crept in with time. As a child, he felt all that was needed to chase it away was clar­ity of voice, the con­fi­dence and good health to call out as loudly as pos­si­ble. Luke al­ways had fol­lowed Davis. He fol­lowed him even when he was too small to play without fall­ing over his own feet. “Play on your own!” Davis re­mem­bered shout­ing one day un­til Luke, in tears, stomped back to the house, Davis later to be rep­ri­manded by their mother.

In due time, Luke an­nounced that he no longer wanted to play war games. This was Dorothy's in­flu­ence. Years later, as a high school base­ball player prior to his knee in­jury, Davis brought small groups to the woods to drink. Two flash­light beams cut through the trees one night as the group chat­tered on the bank. Branches snapped and a ra­dio squawked and off they ran up the trail, ev­ery­body fol­low­ing Davis's lead. “The cops, the cops, fuck­ing 5-0!” A thrill, as if in con­tin­u­a­tion of those boy­hood games, but this time with real op­po­si­tion, the pos­si­bil­ity of ac­tual con­se­quences. But, then, wasn't that kind of bull­shit re­ally? Roshan had got­ten a DUI one night ju­nior year, it's true, but his par­ents paid to have it fixed.

The real op­po­nent was rarely if ever dis­cussed. Se­nior year, some of the guys would go to a strip club across the river, which was about as close as any­one came to tak­ing ac­count of ur­ban blight, it seemed to Davis. He went once with a fake ID and saw bruises on the women's arms and thighs. “Brighten up,” said Seth. “Don't think so much!” Se­nior year. His knee in a brace. All he could do that spring was think. For a long time af­ter­wards, years in fact, Davis had suc­ceeded at not think­ing. It was pos­si­ble not to think as long as ev­ery­thing that hap­pened lined up with ex­pec­ta­tions. But when events took a dif­fer­ent turn, think­ing could not be dodged. Maybe that was a good thing, though it didn't nec­es­sar­ily feel good.

He flipped open his phone and scrolled to Luke's name. The ring sounded. It would be around 9 a.m. in LA. Chances were Luke wasn't up yet. The phone would be there next to his bed. What ringtone did he have now?

Davis waited and, in­stead of hang­ing up, be­gan to leave a mes­sage. “It's a great fuck­ing movie, okay?” he said. “I'm im­pressed, im­pressed as hell. Okay? I'm here, at home, I mean, the house, and the truth, you know, is it's just . . . Mom's go­ing to sell it. For real. I know it's just a house. It didn't feel that way

when we were in it. I know it's just a house, and you've got to pic­ture me here, in the base­ment, all by my lone­some, get­ting emo­tional about Jack Kennedy in this house in the suburbs where you grew up, where I grew up. For real. Feel­ing proud of you. More proud than you'd be­lieve. It's life and I'm liv­ing it and I'm proud to be your brother.”

Davis ended the call. Where had that come from? The trees swayed over­head. His voice had risen in earnest­ness the longer the mes­sage ran on. He felt as though he were fight­ing to keep a grip on some­thing slip­pery and rock­ing be­neath him. In the creek bed, refuse lay all around, empty plas­tic con­tain­ers no one ever both­ered re­triev­ing. He did not know what he would do for the rest of the af­ter­noon. He thought he should prob­a­bly head back. His phone rang. Luke's morn­ing voice. “Hey,” he said.

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